The lights are on
Note: This is an opinion column that ran in the September 2010 issue of Game Informer (the Batman: Arkham City cover. I recently saw on Twitter that game designer Jesse Schell had posted a scan of it on his excellent blog Gamepocalypse Now. I thought it might be nice to post it today to give people a chance to read it in a little easier format. Anyway, hope you think it's interesting, and let me know what you think (and I'm sure you will) -- Matt]
A few months ago, my original Xbox 360 bit the dust, finally succumbing to the dreaded red ring of death. I decided to upgrade to the supposedly better-engineered Elite model. While I was unboxing the new system, I did something that most 360 gamers would find unthinkable. Instead of importing my old Gamertag and Xbox Live account, I got a new 12-month subscription card, booted up the system, and started over from scratch. In a moment, all my gaming history from the last few years was gone, along with my Gamerscore and all of my achievements.
My motivation for starting fresh was a growing dissatisfaction with the endless race to collect achievement points. Achievements have never done much for me, other than occasionally spoil a crucial plot point of a game when I’ve looked into the list of unaccomplished challenges. I’ve never been a completist. Once I’ve finished the game’s main storyline I rarely, if ever, tackle the remaining challenges to unlock alternate costumes or collectibles. A dizzying number of amazing games are released each year – more than anyone can play. I’d rather move on to the next adventure.
More importantly, I don’t care to measure myself against other gamers. It’s a meaningless metric. The leaderboards tout Live users with Gamerscores exceeding 650,000. Compared to that, what does it matter if you have 50,000 or even 200,000 points? More importantly, I expect that many gamers garner those mega-scores by cheating or farming terrible games that are overly generous with achievements. So, congratulations? I don’t believe someone is a better gamer than someone else just because of some number. Anyone who plays games is a gamer – be that game Oblivion or Farmville.
Games are entertainment, and I don’t need to have my free time graded against others. I had a great time playing Red Dead Redemption; I don’t feel bad because I didn’t shoot some arbitrary number of rabbits or unlock a fancy suit for John Marston. I got what I needed out of the experience – fun. Once that’s over, I’m out. Nobody awards me points for watching the DVD extra features or the director’s commentary track on a movie I rented, so why should my gaming choices be any different?
As life becomes busier by the day (by the time you read this, I will be the father of a newborn baby girl), chasing achievements seems like a poor investment of time – especially to prop up a numerical score that would never be impressive anyway. The more life online becomes an endless competition – how many Facebook friends do you have? How many Twitter followers? What’s your Gamerscore? – the more inclined I am to withdraw. I’d rather just play the games I want to play for as long as they hold my interest.
I’m not against achievements. Millions of gamers love them, and I’m all for anything that makes people’s gaming experience more fun. But for me, the time spent trying to chase them doesn’t usually add to my enjoyment of a game. Getting 100 points for completing a boss battle that I was going to finish regardless isn’t really an “achievement” so much as a meaningless pat on the head. If the goal is interesting or enjoyable, chances are I’m going to want to tackle it. If not, no amount of padding to my Gamerscore is enough to make it worthwhile.
If developers want me to complete their extra challenges, make them an interesting, integral part of the experience. I was drawn to the hidden “The Truth” glyphs and the assassin’s tomb challenges in Assassin’s Creed II. Finding them was a joy, because every bit of enigmatic video footage I found drew me deeper into the complex web of intrigue Ubisoft Monteral created between the Templars and Assassins. Each tomb I found delivered fun, fast platforming to the already excellent mix of open-world exploration and combat. They were a welcome change of pace, and something I looked forward to finding. I didn’t care how many points I got for completing them – or if I got any points at all.
To me, gaming is about becoming engrossed in a virtual world and an epic adventure. The little bubbles that pop up onscreen and inform me I’ve been awarded points only serve to break that illusion. A high Gamerscore doesn’t make me a gamer. If I want competition, I can go online and test my skills against others, or better yet, play with friends in any number of amazing co-op games. So go ahead and make fun of my Gamerscore. I’m done with it.The views and opinions expressed on this page are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Game Informer Magazine or its staff
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
ok i don't like to mod my gamerscore like everyone elese but starting from nothing.
I rebooted my Gamerscore, in a sense. Actually I just created another profile in order to connect to Xbox Live, therefore starting from scratch, but either way.
Dood, Congrats on the baby bro! :D I think this is an awesome article. I feel the same way about achievements. The only reason that I play games is to either A. enjoy the story line or B. Play multiplayer. I could careless about achievement points. I've had 5 different xbox live accounts. One for each 360 I have had red ring
I think you are right,but i still like to get the achievements.
I think one of the best points in arguing against achievements was the point that it removes you from the game play. Even more so if you are like me and when you get an achievement that you don't know why you got have to go in and read the description.
Thats also why I found it really interesting that nowhere in your review of Fable III did you all comment on the constant pop-ups that appear keeping you updated on mostly use-less stats (chickens kicked anyone?) comparing you and your friends. Needless to say many of my friends were online playing last night at the same time and it was quite distracting from the story just to see that Oh my one of my friends picked up 12 more gold.
Just my 2 cents worth.
The day my Gamerscore counts for something on a resume is the day I start giving a crap about it.
I couldn't agree more. This actually sounds like something I would write.
I personally still like achievements and trophies they are like a yearbook to me letting me relive all of my past triumphs and failures.
I know they don't have monetary value, but I do enjoy the sentimental value.
Good article. Achievements either appeal to people or they don't, and thats okay. I'm one of the ones that love them. On multiplatform titles, I always buy the 360 version because of Achievements (for whatever reason, PS3 Trophies don't have the same effect on me). For me, Achievements are a way for me to squeeze a few extra hours of enjoyment into my time with a game. For some people, like me, that little popping noise and the message notifying you of the Achievement serve to trigger that old psychological desire for rewards, regardless of the fact that its just some inflated, arbitrary number. It's a very interesting phenomenon.
I would'nt give up my name, or my points...
Yeah I wouldn't wanna give up all the work I've put into games. I see achievements as a reason to keep playing games, not just some number I have to beef up. I want my gamerscore to be high, I want to keep playing games I love. Gamerscore is what you make of it, so make it a good one!
I don't care about gamerscore that much, but I do like achievements and I do like to compete with friends as far as trying to beat them to unlocking the hard, cool or wacky achievements.
I think achievements (or trophies) can add a lot to games that use them well. Examples I'd point to are Dead Rising, Oblivion, Limbo, Borderlands, Fallout3/NV, RDR, L4D 1&2, among others. I think quibbling over the number in the gamerscore is pointless, but the added level the metagames can add to some titles is priceless.
I do understand disliking them from the standpoint of breaking the fiction or the immersion; but you'd have to take to task things like collectibles, scoring and other aspects that are pretty ingrained in gaming, for better or worse (or more accurately, for better and for worse). While Alan Wake's coffee thermoses were off-putting, I enjoyed collecting stat/skill boosting bobble-heads in Fallout 3.
If achievements make you feel compelled to engage in some behavior you don't find enhances your enjoyment, or are particularly non-competitive in nature, I can see why hunting achievements wouldn't be for you.
It's true, still.
I just generally ignore achievements now. Too addicting, too much of a time waster, too much competition all for nothing. Only if they're interesting, like in AC II or if I want to play the game again like in Bioshock or Dead Space. Don't interrupt my immersion otherwise.
No, I don't want to do a Halo achievement party. No, I don't want to grind out levels. No, I don't want you to take advantage of my America-ingrained OCD. No, I don't want to be an achievement *** by renting or buying bad games. No, I don't want the sense of reward you give for some arbitrary number.
Why is it that every few months an article comes out from a well known video game website about a staff member who doesn't care about his gamerscore? It is as if they need to justify such a low gamerscore to themselves, so they write about how they don't care about it.
This is nothing against Matt, really. I believe he is sincere in what he is writing, I just don't agree with it. I love Achievements in the same way most people do. I love how Achievements allow me to play games two or three times when I wouldn't normally do so, and I have a blast playing them again.
I love how Achievements have introduced me to games I never would have played to begin with, like Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I love how Achievements give me that satisfaction of completing a challenge, something you only used to get when you beat a hard boss or a level.
Achievements are the best thing to happen to gaming since Sony's Dual Analog controller (I said DUAL ANALAOG, NOT DUAL SHOCK!). And please don't argue with me about how Nintendo 64 had dual analogs, because it didn't. It had ONE analog stick!
im sad to say that erasing my gamerscore would be like erasing most of the past 3 years of my life.
I have to agree. I could never enjoy a game when I worried about getting gamerscore or trophies. Now I only own a wii so I can just enjoy playing the game for fun and not have to work at doing the same thing 1000 times just for a lousey 5 gamerpoints.